A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing became something of a publishing phenomenon when Eimear McBride’S debut novel was published in 2013. This adaption, also given a rigorous direction by Annie Ryan looks set to follow it. If nothing else it gives young actress Aoife Dufffin a calling card, her performance at the centre of the piece is nothing short of astonishing; as fraught and as taut; as bruising and as vulnerable as the prose that tumbles from her mouth in a stream of consciousness, a howl at a world that can use and abuse young girls and place the blame solely at their door.
The piece bears some of the distinctive characteristics of Samuel Beckett, from prose that consciously breaks the laws of syntax and form that moves between character, tense and points of view, sometimes mid-sentence and challenges its audience to keep up. Its rhythm staccato’s around the space, performer barely drawing breath, using each pause as an exclamation point, imbuing significance to it the same way that Pinter. The book is a masterpiece, if its theatrical equivalent doesn’t fully match up, it is down to the books advantage of allowing its audience to put it down, pause for breath, take it in, re-read sections that goes over their head. In short it allows you to emotionally invest as well as being battered with its high artistry. With this production I left feeling bruised, exhilarated by a major acting talent breaking out, yet with my heart not splattered and my tear ducts left dry.
There are tropes of Irish gothic in the tale; of God-fearing Catholic mothers, a disabled but warm-hearted brother and a lecherous uncle who forces his thirteen year old niece into sex, an act that will force her to shield herself from the world, not through booze or drugs but in ever more degrading sexual encounters.
Duffin plays this harrowing tale with a simple matter of factness that allows the horror of its words to worm their way in through stealth rather than bash you in melodramatic bluntness. Dressed simply in pyjama bottoms and a grey top she prowls Lian Bell’s sandpit arena like a gladiator looking to strike out, flicking between characters, male and female, with little more than a drop of octave or a shift in physical stance. The words tumble out of her, creating a collage in her stream-of-consciousness that sometimes evokes feeling over understanding while at others strikes home like a quivering shaft to the gut.
Over eighty five minute it can sometimes be a punishing watch, with only the odd darkest shade of Irish humour breaking out. Yet in its last moments, as the girl enters a river and lets the water and a sense of peace wash over her, there is a re-birth of sorts, a glimmer of light that Duffin’s broken but still fighting girl will emerge out the other side. Her performance is so captivating and so emotionally true that you hope for a cleansing as much for the performer as you do for the character.